Pinot noir


I would drink Champagne every day if I could afford it — or if importers would send me samples, I mean, come on! — and the Champagnes I love best are brut rosé and blanc de blancs. For the Fourth Day of Christmas, I offer a superb brut rosé, the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004. The trend now is to favor small family growers and champagne-makers — also called artisan or farmer Champagnes — over the large established houses, and it’s true that grower Champagne can deliver a sense of individuality and terroir-driven authenticity that the large houses sometimes gloss over. It’s also true, however, that with their sometimes vast supplies of reserve wines, their long-term contracts in excellent vineyards and their decades, if not centuries of experience and tradition, the major houses can turn out enviably great and highly desirable products of depth and complexity. Such a one is the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004, a blend of 45 percent pinot noir grapes, 31 percent chardonnay and 24 percent pinot meunier. The color is radiant coral that’s almost opalescent, and it’s energized by startlingly brisk and abundant effervescence; my thought was, “How can a fragile glass how these bubbles?” This is a generous and expansive brut rosé, layered with notes of cloves and orange zest, strawberries and raspberries, biscuits and toasted hazelnuts with a hint of tangerine and a sort of dusty peach. The pinot noir and pinot meunier lend a feeling of red wine graphite, almost of a subtly tannic character, while the chardonnay delivers subversive elements of limestone and grapefruit. This is, in other words, simultaneously substantial and ethereal, earthy and elegant, with an extended finish that’s chiseled and crystalline. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $80.

Imported by Moët-Hennessey USA, New York. A sample for review.

If River Road Family Vineyards and Winery, located in Green Valley of Russian River Vallery, didn’t issue the first wine in California from the harvest of 2013 — you know, like three months ago — then it’s right up there in the front of the vanguard; the wine was released on December 2. Not surprisingly the wine, made by Joe Freeman, is a rosé. The wonderful color of the River Road Rosé of Pinot Noir Reserve 2013, Russian River Valley, is a radiant violet-melon hue that we’ll call Kardashian pink. Aromas of pure strawberry and raspberry, slightly spiced and macerated, mingle with notes of rose petals, orange rind, cloves and limestone; in the mouth, this rosé gushes with red fruit flavors, adding a hint of blueberry, that flow in a moderately satiny texture; the finish brings in more limestone minerality and a touch of almond skin. While not made in the stony, austere style of rose that I prefer — this is a little riper and more voluptuous — the River Road Rosé of Pinot Noir Reserve 2013 is a delightful and tasty rosé for drinking through the summer of 2014. Alcohol content is 12.5 percent. Production was 240 cases. Very Good+. About $15.

A sample for review.

It’s a good thing that Paul Hobbs’ reach exceeds his grasp, because he’s a winemaker and consultant with his fingers in many vinous pies. He worked at important estates in California, including Opus One, before launching his Paul Hobbs Winery in 1991. Consistently interested in the potential of South American vineyards, he opened, with two partners, Vina Cobos in Argentina in 1999; the company now has seven wineries and 11 labels. While the constant theme in Hobbs’ wines, wherever they are made and whatever the grape variety, is minimal intervention in the winery, the motif of the wines themselves tends to be power and structure, and these two examples of pinot noirs from CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs demonstrate that fact perfectly; they are succulent and tasty but deeply imbued with the foundational elements of acid and minerality. CrossBarn, named for the building on the farm where Hobbs grew up in Upstate New York, produced its first wine from the vintage of 2000. Winemaker for CrossBarn is Molly Bohlman, image at right. These wines were samples for review.
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The CrossBarn Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, offers a ravishing purple-magenta color and equally ravishing aromas of black cherries and plums, cloves and cinnamon, a bit of smoke and toasty oak and notes of rhubarb, pomegranate and cola. This is quite substantial for an Anderson Valley pinot, which often tend to be leaner and lither than this example, though the texture is super satiny, and acidity cuts a bright clean swath on the palate. There’s a briery, brambly edge and a pass at graphite minerality, and as the moments elapse, elements of leather and loam emerge. There’s more power than elegance here, but this pinot noir also manages to be succulent and flavorful. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 14 percent new barrels. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $35.
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The color of the CrossBarn Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, is slightly different from the color of its Anderson Valley stablemate, being more in the dark ruby-mulberry range. This one is even spicier than its cousin, with an exotic panoply of cloves, allspice and cardamom wedded to a procession of macerated black and red cherries, currants and plums and hints of rhubarb, sassafras and oolong tea. This is another substantial, even dense pinot noir, though, as before, it slides across the tongue like the finest, flowiest satin in a stylish welter of slightly roasted black and blue fruit flavors, dried spices and flowers, all borne by layers of clean earth, graphite minerality and energizing acidty. The differences between these two pinot noir wines seem to reside more in the realm of detail than in dimension and intent. This one aged 10 months in French oak, 10 percent new barrels, keeping the influence to a minimum but contributing to the wine’s supple character. 14.1 percent alcohol. drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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It’s true that Thanksgiving has come and gone, but I wanted to offer my notes — made in the kitchen, not at the table; that would be impolite — on the wines we imbibed during and after the great feast. I always offer a riesling, this year two, a zinfandel and a pinot noir, and I don’t usually deviate from the actual wines. Of course, Christmas is coming right up, and many households will mount the same or a similar meal, so these wines, or ones like them, would be equally appropriate. The idea, as you have doubtless read a thousand times in the past few weeks, is to serve wines that somehow encompass the range of Thanksgiving dinner’s complimentary and contradictory sweet and savory sensations. This trio has stood the test of the FK/LL groaning board for years, changing only vintages as time rolls along; the added riesling is one that I have tasted from several past vintages and never been disappointed. Unless indicated, these wines were purchased by me. Today’s reviews in Weekend Wine Notes are rather more full-bodied than usual. Enjoy!
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The additional wine this year was the Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, produced by brothers Charles and Stuart Smith, who share growing and winemaking duties. The color is a shimmery pale gold with fleeting green highlights; aromas of green apple, pear and lemon are infused with jasmine, lime peel and limestone. Flavors of roasted lemon, lychee and peach are fresh, ripe and lightly spiced, while crisp acidity and scintillating limestone and flint minerality lend the wine verve and excitement. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 463 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. This was a sample for review. Excellent. About $27.
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The Trefethen Dry Riesling, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, has appeared at our Thanksgiving dinner for years. I tend to like this riesling with a year or two of age — in 2011, we drank the ’08; in 2010, we drank the ’07 — to give it some golden burnish, and I mean that in terms of color but also metaphorically in a sense of sensual glow. The 2012 was what my local wine merchant had on the shelf, though, and he remembered that I like this wine at the present festive time of year. So, the color of the Trefethen Dry Riesling 2012 is very pale straw-gold; a bouquet of apple, pear and lychee wreathes notes of peach and honeysuckle and an intriguing hint of petrol or rubber eraser. In the mouth, flavors of roasted lemon and spiced pear are pointed with ginger and quince and equipped with a spare elegant texture that features crackling acidity and high-toned chalk and flint qualities. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $23.
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In 2010, we drank the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, with Thanksgiving leftovers. This year was the turn of the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2009. The Yamhill Cuvée is the winery’s cadet pinot noir, made from estate vineyards but not as a single-vineyard or reserve wine. I first tasted the 2009 at a trade event in the middle of February this year; I bought a bottle last week, and it feels as if the wine — or at least this bottle — is reaching the peak of its development. The color is radiant medium ruby with a touch of garnet; notes of black cherries, plums and black currants are touched with elements of fruitcake, smoked game and loam. A few minutes in the glass bring out hints of melon and sour cherry that linger above a supple satiny texture buoyed by moderate tannins and slightly fading acidity. Quite delicious but not as fresh and vibrant as the example I tried nine months ago. Very Good+. About $45.

Image, much cropped, from sipswirlsavor.com.
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It’s not exactly cheating, but this year, instead of buying a bottle, as I usually do, of the Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys, a red blend that includes zinfandel, I substituted a 100 percent zinfandel wine, the Ridge Benito Dusi Ranch Zinfandel 2011, Paso Robles. This, I think, was the Wine of Night. Made from vines planted in 1923, and aged 12 months in a combination of one- to five-year-old American oak barrels, the Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel 2011 — the label, as you see, emphasizes the AVA rather than the single vineyard — offers a lovely dark ruby color with a lighter magenta rim; a bright and lively bouquet of raspberries, black currants and plums is highlighted by notes of red cherries, briers and brambles and a touch of black fruit compote. On the palate, the wine weaves smoke and leather and graphite with raspberry and black currant flavors wrapped around an intense core of violets, lavender and dried thyme, all supported by moderately dusty and chewy tannins and a fine line of crisply etched acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30 .
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The black kite of the winery name is not a fabrication of paper and sticks tossed on the wind at the end of a long string but a species of bird. Black Kite Cellars traces its origins to 1995, when Donald and Maureen Green bought a 40-acre parcel by the Navarro River just west of Philo in Mendocino County, in a cool area eight miles from the coast. They replanted an old vineyard with pinot noir vines and developed two more blocks on a hill above the river. The first crop was harvested in 2003, and the decision to retain a portion of the grapes to make their own wine brought the concept of Black Kite Cellars, named for a bird indigenous to the region, to fruition. Jeff Gaffner became winemaker in 2004; the first wines he worked on comprised the 2005 bottlings of distinct blocks within the estate. Black Kite pinot noirs showed up on my lists of 50 Great Wines of 2009 and 50 Great of 2011.
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Black Kite “Kite’s Rest” 2010 and Black Kite “Kite’s Rest” 2011, Anderson Valley. 14.5 and 14.3 percent alcohol respectively. These spend about 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The ’10 version offers a medium ruby-magenta hue and enticing aromas and flavors of rhubarb, sassafras, beetroot and cranberries; the wine is lively and vibrant, with piercing slate-like minerality and slightly dusty tannins. Lovely purity and intensity. 541 cases. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $45. The ’11 rendition displays a light ruby-red cherry color; it’s much more reticent than the ’10 and more structured, with leathery tannins, briers and brambles and a pronounced graphite mineral element. Pretty tightly wound. 953 cases. Try from 2015 through 2020. Very Good+. About $45.
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Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 and Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The alcohol content is 14.6 percent for 2010, 14.9 percent for 2011. These wines also age about 11 months in French oak but in 50 percent new barrels. The ’10 sports a vivid dark ruby-garnet color; the wine is ripe and a little fleshy and funky, with a dollop of briery earthiness and tinges of smoke. Scents and flavors of black cherries, currants and blueberries are infused with cloves and sandalwood for an overall sense of spicy warmth. 149 cases. Drink through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $55. The Soberanes ’11 is perhaps the most attractive of this group of pinot noirs from Black Kite. The color is lustrous medium ruby; heady aromas of sassafras, rhubarb, cranberry and blueberry are permeated by notes of cloves, macerated black cherries, briers and brambles; the wine is super satiny yet a touch raspy and underbrushy; you feel the earth and the roots; bright acidity keeps it lively, while mild slightly dusty tannins add depth. Great purity and intensity. 273 cases. Drink through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $55.
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Black Kite Stony Terrace Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley. The color is medium ruby, slightly lighter at the rim; a sniff opens a trove of cloves, lavender and lilacs, black cherries and red currants, a hint of plums and mint; lip-smacking acidity and smacky tannins give the wine a lively and somewhat substantial structure, though the whole impression is of a pinot noir that revels in being clean, fresh and wild. 14.6 percent alcohol. 153 cases. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $52.
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Black Kite Redwood’s Edge Block Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge; violets and lavender form the leading edge of a bouquet that teems with notes of red and black currants and red and black cherries, highlighted with cloves, sassafras and underbrush. In the mouth, this pinot noir is super succulent and supple, spicy and savory, but it’s also quite dry and — speaking of redwood — the oak emerges to a slightly obtrusive degree. 14.6 percent alcohol. Perhaps a year or two with help it smooth out. 149 cases. Very Good+. About $55.
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Black Kite Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley. The medium ruby color carries a touch of magenta; this is cool with penetrating graphite-tinged minerals; warm with clove-spiked spice; lively with arrow-bright acidity; succulent with black and blue fruit flavors; shapely with mildly dusty tannins and oak; richly detailed with notes of rose petals, pomegranate, cranberry, briers and brambles. I love it. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. 152 cases. Excellent. About $52.
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Black Kite Angel Hawk Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley. This reserve wine, which sees 20 months in French oak, derives from the winery’s Kites Rest Vineyard. The color is a limpid medium ruby with marked intensity of hue, I mean fucking gorgeous; aromas of spiced and macerated plums and red and black cherries and currants are permeated by hints of rose petals and lilac. It’s a substantial pinot noir, as befits a reserve wine, but it does not overwhelm with sheer size or oaken influence; it is, instead, supple and mouth-filling, and it displays layers of briers, brambles, graphite and moderately dusty tannins for foundation and framing. 14.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’20. 114 cases. Excellent. About $80.
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The holiday season stretching from Thanksgiving to Twelfth Night, with Christmas and New Years monumental stops on the road, is almost upon us. If you’re looking for a house sparkling wine that’s far better than cheap tank-generated sparklers but nothing as expensive and thought-provoking as the more luxurious examples from California and Champagne, here’s a candidate. The Laetitia Brut Cuvée, a nonvintage sparkling wine from San Luis Obispo County’s Arroyo Grande Valley, is a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot blanc grapes, produced in the traditional champagne method by a winery noted for its precisely made single-vineyard pinot noirs. The color is pale gold with a slight shimmer of silver in the upward surge of tiny bubbles. This feels like steel and snow, biscuits and lemon curd, apples and pears, with cloves and almond skin in the background and a foundation of scintillating limestone. A few moments in the glass bring in notes of tangerine and grapefruit, the whole package enlivened by crisp and vibrant acidity. Laetitia Brut Cuvée spend 24 months en tirage – no, not triage — that is, two years in the bottle resting on the lees of the yeast cells and touch of sugar that stimulated the second fermentation. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 3,600 cases. Thoroughly enjoyable and engaging, close to elegant. Very Good+. About $25.

A sample for review.

Almost 50 years after its founding in 1965, on a property purchased in 1862 by Jacob Schram, it has become a cliche that Schramsberg is one of the leading producers of sparkling wine in California and that Jack and Jamie Davies, both deceased, were pioneering visionaries in the field, especially in Napa Valley. Cliche or not, however, under the leadership of Jack and Jamie’s son Hugh — winemaker along with Keith Hock — the Schramsberg winery continues to produce world-class sparkling wine using the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. It was a pleasure to taste — nay, drink — these three examples of the Schramsberg line sent to me as review samples. My notes follow. Each of these, or all of them, would make ideal additions to your roster of Yuletide and New Year libations.
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The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2010, North Coast, is made completely from chardonnay grapes — “white from white” — that derive from these North Coast counties: Napa 60 percent, Sonoma 37 percent, Marin 2 percent and Mendocino 1 percent. The color is shimmering pale gold; the effervescence is exuberant and persistent. Notes of roasted lemon and lemon balm are highlighted by quince and ginger, hints of lime peel and grapefruit, freshly baked bread and limestone. This sparkling wine is bright and crisp on the palate, with tingling acidity that buoys a lovely, almost creamy texture that nonetheless is characterized by lithe and lively and slightly angular minerality. The overall effect is of balletic elegance and finely-wrought stones and bones. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The composition of the Schramberg Blanc de Noirs Brut 2009 — “white from black” — is 87 percent pinot noir and 13 percent chardonnay; the North Coast county components are 34 percent Sonoma, 32 percent Napa, 26 percent Mendocino and 8 percent Marin. Pale gold in color, this sparkling wine features a constant stream of tiny silvery shivery bubbles; the initial impression is clean and fresh, with aromas of slightly macerated strawberries and raspberries, lightly buttered cinnamon toast with cloves and candied orange rind. These elements persist into the flavor profile, where the wine takes on degrees of earthy, flinty minerality and notably crisp acidity, arrayed in a spare, elegant body for a high-toned character. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Last of this trio is my favorite, the Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2009, a blend of 70 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay, with North Coast contributions of 44 percent Sonoma, 28 percent Napa, 24 percent Mendocino and 4 percent Marin counties. The color is old rose-gold enlivened by an upward surge of tiny glinting bubbles. Aromas of dried red currants and raspberries carry hints of peach, orange rind and a touch of tropical fruit, all enveloped in limestone; a few minutes in the glass add notes of pomegranate and biscuits. This sparkling wine is juicy but very dry, a tissue of delicate nuance, spare and elegant, wrapped in a fleet-footed expression of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; its elegance does not belie a sense of tautness and urgency. A beautifully-wrought brut rosé. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $43.
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Belle Glos is the pinot noir arm of the Wagner Family of Wines that includes the iconic Caymus cabernet sauvignons and the popular Conundrum white and red blends (yes, there’s a red now). The Meiomi label represents the more moderately priced and accessible pinot noir from the Belle Glos line. Winemaker is Joseph J. Wagner. Meiomi means “coast” in the languages of the Wappo and Yuki tribes that once thrived in California, and the wine is indeed a coastal product, derived from vineyards in three coastal counties, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Sonoma. (Though I have to say that every time I see a bottle of this wine I think, “Me-oh-my!”) The color of the Meiomi Pinot Noir 2012 is dark ruby with a tinge of magenta; the wine generally is dark, spicy, berryish, with heady aromas of black and red cherries and currants and plums touched with cranberries and cloves and a hint of sassafras. It’s super satiny on the palate, and its ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are permeated by smoke and leather that lead out to a keen graphite edge, all set midst moderately dense, dry and slightly dusty tannins. At 13.8 percent alcohol and with this panoply of effects, it’s a stylish crowd-pleaser. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

The history of Laetitia Vineyards and Winery begins in 1981, when a joint venture between Deutz Champagne and the old Beringer Estates established a facility for making sparkling wine — they were good, too — in San Luis Obispo’s Arroyo Grande Valley, until the partnership was rent asunder in 1996. The next year, Jean-Claude Tardivat acquired the property and named it Laetitia, after his daughter; the name means joy or happiness in Latin. Tardivat’s tenure was brief; in 1998, he sold the winery to a partnership that included Selim Zilkha, who became sole owner, with her daughter Nadia Wellisz, in 2001. The concentration at this large estate — 1,900 acres with 620 acres of vines — is on pinot noir and sparkling wines, the latter production meaning that chardonnay is also grown, produced both as a still wine and for blending in sparking wine. My focus today is on Laetitia’s reserve and single-vineyard pinot noirs, some of which I tasted as recent review samples and others on a visit to the winery late in April this year. The pinot noirs from Laetitia do not fall into the category of delicate and elegant; these are full-bodied and substantial pinots, tending even toward muscular, yet they are never over-ripe or too high in alcohol. Ultimately, they are primarily well-balanced and integrated. Winemaker is Eric Hickey, son of Laetitia’s sparkling winemaker, Dave Hickey, who has been in that job since 1990.

Image of the Laetitta tasting room from winelinesonline.com.

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Laetitia Reserve du Domaine Pinot Noir 2011, Arroyo Grande Valley, San Luis Obispo County. The grapes are a selection from the best areas of the winery’s vineyards. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a tinge of magenta; aromas of intensely fragrant black cherries and raspberries are permeated with notes of cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb, with underlying layers of briers and brambles and forest floor. This is the point at which to mention the dynamic and muscular character of Laetitia’s pinot noirs, qualities this example prominently displays, though the spicy black and blue fruit flavors and the texture are almost succulent but cut with a line of bracing acidity and graphite minerality. The model here is nothing delicate or ephemeral, yet you would not mistake the wine for anything other than pinot noir. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 1,200 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.

Of the 2010 version of this wine, tasted at the property on April 26, I noted: “acidity cuts a swath and minerality plows the furrows… one from the dark side of pinot noir.” 14.3% alc.
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Laetitia La Coupelle Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. This wine aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby, a lighter hue than the previous wine; the aroma profile leans in a different direction, with red and black currants, plums and leather, dust and graphite and just a note of violets. It’s dense and chewy in the mouth, a pinot noir with lots of presence, but it’s not significantly earthy or briery; despite its substantial nature this pinot exudes an aura of radiant varietal purity and intensity, with a super-satiny texture buoyed by bright acidity and well-spiced and slightly macerated red and black fruit flavors. 14.7 percent alcohol. 311 cases were produced. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $60.

Of the 2009 redition of La Coupelle, tasted at the winery on April 29, I wrote, “big one… more aggressive, a little tighter [than La Colline 09]… very deep, lots of spice… a real edge… great.” 14.7% alc.
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Laetitia Les Galets Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. This wine aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is a sultry ruby-mulberry hue; scents of black cherries, black raspberries and plums are infused with hints of rose petals, rhubarb and pomegranate, and the whole package is invested with a subtle earthy element. This is a supple, lithe pinot noir, more sinewy than muscular and propelled by blade-like acidity; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of dusty graphite, while ripe black fruit flavors are slightly roasted and fleshy and supported by touches of sleek tannins and polished oak. Lovely tone and balance. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 233 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $60.
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Laetitia La Colline Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. Aging for this wine was 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, obviously the standard for this group except for the Reserve du Domaine. The color is medium ruby with a slight magenta cast, a fitting color for a wine that offers beguiling aromas of red currants, blueberries and mulberries, heightened by notes of cherry cola, cloves and graphite with a hint of lilac. Despite the mildness of the alcohol content — 13.3 percent — and the similarity of the oak regimen, La Colline 2010 feels a bit rough-shod and perhaps a little more rigorous than the three wines mentioned above; possibly it simply needs time for the elements to come together and achieve balance. Try from 2015 through 2020. Production was 190 cases. Very Good+. About $60.

And of La Colline 2009, tasted at the property on April 26, I said, “lovely medium cerise color, brambly raspberry and blueberry, touch of cranberry, rhubarb and sassafras… gets hints of tannin and underbrush in mid-palate.” 13.8% alc.
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Josh Jensen worked two harvests in Burgundy — at Domaine Dujac and Domaine de la Romanee-Conti — and became convinced that he could make great pinot noir wines in California if he could find the right limestone-based terroir. After a couple years search, he found what he wanted in the Gavilan Mountains, high on Mt. Harlan above the city of Hollister, in San Benito County. He planted four vineyards and founded Calera Wine Company, named for an old limestone kiln on the property, in 1976. His intuition was correct. The pinot noirs that issue from Calera’s original vineyards and several planted subsequently are not only among the best in California but among the best in the world. Jensen utilizes natural yeasts and doesn’t overwhelm the wines with new oak. He pushes for vibrant acidity and fairly rigorous structure, with the result that Calera pinot noirs deliver plenty of character but exhibit long aging potential. The wines under review today I purchased locally, paying about $4 or $5 above the suggested retail prices, which I list with the individual reviews. I received samples from Calera only once, four bottles from the 1995 vintage that I wrote about in my weekly syndicated wine column on June 30, 1999. I thought that it would be interesting to read these reviews from 15 years ago and see how consistent the wines are over time:

It was not merely a pleasure, it was an epiphany to taste the 1995 pinot noirs from Calera Wine Co., whose four pinot vineyards are perched in the Gavilan Mountains in San Benito County. Owner Josh Jensen, dedicated to a Burgundian vision, has been a pioneer of great pinot in California since 1972. The wines carry a Mt. Harlan appellation.

The gorgeous Calera Jensen Pinot Noir 1995 smells like old English churches – rich, dusty, floral, imbued with incense – and brandishes an extraordinary scent of baked plums and black cherries combined with sweet oak and a meaty, animal quality; it offers incredible weight and density, luscious cherry-cranberry flavors that pull up leather and dried herbs and a dim circumference of brown sugar. Exceptional. About $38.

Where the Jensen is warm, the Calera Reed 1995 is cooler, more minerally but also funkier, more “barnyardy”; it brims with cranberry and cola flavors rimmed with brown sugar and trimmed with deft, spicy oak. Excellent. About $35.

If garnets had a flavor, it would be embodied by the Calera Mills 1995, a pinot noir more reticent, more intense and concentrated than its cousins. Provocative smoke curls at the core, while at the top of its range shimmers a floral scent almost like camillas; currants and plums, wheatmeal and beet-root, thyme and lavender teem in the mouth. Exceptional. About $35.

Finally, the Calera Selleck 1995 is an example of utter purity and richness, seamless balance and integration; its hallmark is not intensity but completeness and generosity. Excellent. About $38.

Winemaker at Calera is Mike Waller, who has been at the winery since 2007. Image of Josh Jensen from The Underground Wineletter.

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Calera “Ryan” Pinot Noir 2009, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The Ryan Vineyard consists of an upper portion of 9.4 acres, planted in 1998, and a lower portion of 3.7 acres planted in 2001. The wine aged 18 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The color is medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; the bouquet burgeons with exotic spice, fresh and dried red currants and raspberries with a hint of blueberry and a note of violets; the texture is spare and lithe, and acidity cuts a swathe on the palate; more than an any other of this quartet, the influence of fine-grained tannins and oak and graphite minerality is apparent, creating a slight rasp or sense of resistance in the wine’s flow. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now or wait until 2015 and consume through 2019 to ’21. Production was 2,218 cases. Very Good+. About $42.
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Calera “Mills” Pinot Noir 2009, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The 14.4-acre Mills Vineyard was planted in 1984; an additional acre was planted in 1998. The wine aged 18 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge; this is a subtle and supple pinot noir, highly structured but displaying plenty of spicy fruit scents and flavors in the range of red currants, red cherries and plums; the mode of the wine, however, is earthy and lithic, cool and minerally; it’s half juicy, half rigorous. The Calera “Mills” 09 offers great depth of character and dense, almost chewy tannins that feel legitimately hard-earned. Delicious stuff, but demanding too. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,599 cases. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $48.
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Calera “Reed” Pinot Noir 2010, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The 4.4-acre Reed vineyard was planted in 1975. The wine aged 16 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The entrancing color is limpid medium ruby; aromas of cloves, cola, rhubarb and cranberry feel slightly macerated and roasted. This is a delicate, elusive and haunting pinot noir with a supremely satiny texture and keen acidity that combs the palate; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of briars and brambles and forest floor, with notes of graphite and loam, every quality combined with elegance, tensile strength and inevitability. 13.6 percent alcohol. 398 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. About $55.
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Calera “Jensen” Pinot Noir 2010, Mt. Harlen, San Benito County. Jensen, 13.8 acres, was planted in 1975. The wine spent 16 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of dark plums, red currents and potpourri are wreathed with notes of old leather, lavender, potpourri and a trace of pomegranate and cola; the real thing, heady yet subtle, nuanced and balanced. Matters become a bit more structured in the mouth, where acidity plows a straight furrow and elements of leather and spicy oak emerge more prominently; the texture is satiny smooth, supernally so, but lithe and sinewy, so you feel the bones and muscles of its essence as well as the supple smoothness. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 1,072 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $75.
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